Both pre-hunt scouting and a bit of insider knowledge pay big dividends on a do-it-yourself hunt for a heavy-horned speed goat.
When I think about the vast prairies of the West, I can’t help but picture plenty of record book pronghorns dotting those immense, rolling grasslands. Armed with unique abilities and looks that set them apart from any other game animal found in North America, pronghorns are, without a doubt, the true monarchs of the prairies. It was for this reason I jumped at a recent chance to tag along and assist two friends in filling their first pronghorn tags, and I didn’t have to think twice. My buds had drawn coveted tags in a southern Alberta zone I had hunted for several years during my youth, and I was eager to get back.
Being raised in southern Alberta I had always been around pronghorns, but it was not until I drew my first archery tag, that I developed a deep respect for these animals. While driving south from my new home in the rough country of northern British Columbia, it did not take long to be reminded why pronghorns are so extraordinary. The country they inhabit is truly desolate; the large tracts of untouched grassland can stretch for many miles between buildings, and water is virtually nonexistent. It’s truly remarkable that anything can survive in such challenging terrain.
With both of my friends dealing with limited hunt time due to their careers, I opted to head down a few days early and hopefully secure permission on some prime stretches of private land. Ideally, I would also be able to locate a few “shooter” pronghorns that would be worth taking a second look at come opening day. That first morning of scouting, the pronghorns seemed to have read the script. The sun had barely crested the horizon and already, I was focusing my Nikon spotting scope on a small herd. Having heard rumors of a winter die-off and general low numbers for the area, that group of speed goats was more than a welcome sight!
Opening day found me meeting up with my long-time hunting partner Mike, along a lonely gravel road. It was almost like Christmas day as I hurriedly recapped all of my pre-hunt leg work—I tried my best to describe, with as much detail as possible, all the bucks that had got my heart pumping. I learned quickly that putting Mike on his first pronghorn was every bit as exciting for me, as holding my own tag. Wasting no time, after the brief meeting we jumped in the truck and headed for a herd I had glassed the night before. I knew the medium-sized band held two or three shooter bucks, in an area that offered some prime stalking possibilities.
While kicking up dust and making good time racing across the prairie, I could tell Mike was starting to get excited. He had not yet laid his eyes on a pronghorn since he arrived in the area, but it didn’t matter—he was feeding off of my own excitement and that was more than enough. Unfortunately, Round One went to the speed goats. After a lengthy, stealthy stalk to within about 250 yards, a nervous doe managed to catch our movement and bolted. As the herd soon followed, we were reminded that pronghorns not only have excellent eyes, but also impressive speed. It was also obvious that this was a pronghorn hunt, not merely a “shoot.”
Tails between our legs, we decided to hunt our way back to the truck, with hopes of getting on the “Plan B” herd I had also located the previous day. Cresting the last ridge before reaching our truck, we were startled by clouds of dust and loud truck engines. A flurry of road hunters was making its way into the area. Fortunately, having prior experience with the area, I knew just the spot to check out. There were no pronghorns to be found in the spot when I checked the day before, but I knew some goats would get pushed there as the pressure increased along the roads.
There is something to be said about familiarity with your hunting grounds. Within minutes of getting to my favorite “pressure” area, we located a large herd of pronghorns. Glassing the group of 50-some animals turned up nine bucks—one a definite shooter! There were certainly many eyes to catch our every movement, but thankfully, the well-practiced Mike was comfortable taking a long-range shot. Putting in time at the practice range certainly has its advantages. After piling our packs into a solid rest, Mike’s rifle soon rang out. I watched through my binocular as the trophy buck stiffened and dropped.
Emotions ran high as Mike walked up and finally put his hands on his very first pronghorn. Yes, it was his first goat, but it had come via a tag that took 10 long years of applying to become a reality. The trophy had been worth the wait. The hair, the horns, the gorgeous markings and coloration—the handsome pronghorn was unlike any other animal Mike had ever been fortunate enough to bag. To say the trip had been a success doesn’t quite get it; not only did I get to watch one of my friends bag a great animal, I got to see, first-hand and in vivid detail, the long-awaited “moment of truth” between hunter and game. It’s a feeling I knew well, and never tire of experiencing—and one I would not trade for any other.
Although our hunt unfolded in a limited-draw area, there is a plethora of opportunity for hunters interested in pursuing the regal pronghorn on a year-to-year basis. Wyoming, Idaho and Montana are a few of the most-popular options, and all offer solid populations, and great opportunities to draw tags. Wyoming, for instance, offers opportunities to apply for tags until late May, and there are almost always “left-over” tags available after the draws are complete.
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Both Idaho and Montana feature early June application deadlines. Start your scouting on the state websites, then use your HuntStand app to check out specific opportunities in specific state zones. I use my HuntStand app to research not only general terrain features, but also access roads and potential campsites, and of course extended forecasts as my chosen hunt dates approach.
If you’re not already awaiting the results of your applications, my advice for those looking to “get in the game” this fall would be to do some research on Wyoming’s left-over tags. This hunt comes highly
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recommended; if you have some time and are looking for an exhilarating adventure, my advice is simple: Don’t let another fall pass by without having a pronghorn tag in your pocket. Although I don’t get the opportunity to hunt these regal animals every year, they are definitely a species I don’t pass up when the opportunity arises. Go on just one prairie hunt, and you might likewise be bitten by the pronghorn-hunting bug.